A large audience basked in the sunlight of a fall day with expectations mounting, waiting for Anna Dubinski’s take on Lysistrata to begin. It was soon clear they were in skilled hands, as Hannah Yaphe’s dynamic voice rang throughout the Quad, the sexual references beginning to flow.
The classic Greek play, written by Aristophanes, centers around a group of women in ancient Greece who decide to hold their sexuality hostage in order to put an end to the Peloponnesian War, much to the chagrin of their aching husbands and their own urges. The material had the potential to satisfy even a critical audience, providing it had a cast that wouldn’t let the bawdy jokes lead to pandering performances. The actors were able to strike this difficult balance.
Nerves in the ensemble were apparent at first, but, notwithstanding a few compulsive hair flips and the rare stumbled line, the cast settled into a good pace. Yaphe’s embodiment of grace and cunning made her a convincing Lysistrata, and the women’s chorus presented fine characterizations. Though a few moments bordered on overacting, other members of the cast soon reined these in.
After the women invited female audience members to join in their oath of abstinence, a creative touch that caused nervous giggling in the crowd, it was the men’s time to shine. Their spirited, testosterone-filled entrance contrasted well with the women’s world. Unfortunately, their T-shirts took away from the otherwise realistic and gorgeously hung costumes; less modesty would have been more true to the temperate setting. Even so, the men’s performances were strong, with amusing mannerisms regardless of the size of their speaking roles.
Tom Lute, the leader of the men, was animated and physically precise, complete with a crooked moustache and crotchety demeanor. Meg Shields’s performance as the elderly leader of the women’s chorus was well done, enhanced by a craggy voice and knotted posture. Her physicality complemented that of Lute’s with good results.
The genuinely hilarious jokes were evenly spaced throughout the play, and came often. Thankfully, most of the sensual content, which might have eclipsed the play as a whole, was delivered without pandering to the audience. It didn’t feel cheap when the swollen members appeared, since the sexual agony on the actors’ faces was sincere.
The performers, who seemed relaxed, handled a few interruptions caused by non-cast members leaving the acropolis, better known as the library, with grace. Abigail Bryant was especially self-assured, defying her small frame as Lysistrata’s handmaiden with personality and comedic timing.
Blocking, especially during the men and women’s first confrontation of the library steps, was performed with precise movements, adding visual style. Although a few moments were slightly robotic during Aleya Jesson and Jeremy Foote’s bedroom scene, the sexual tension was palpable. Their performances managed to overshadow the looming erection in the scene, a feat for any actor.
The song at the end could have used more practice as the cast wasn’t entirely in sync, but it still made for a good moment of closure for the otherwise satisfied audience.
Under Dubinski’s skillful direction, Lysistrata was filled with laughs, spot-on performances and interesting characterizations, putting the audience to bed with satisfied smiles on their faces — it’s only a shame it was a one-night stand.